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Showing posts from March, 2016


For a limited time Pampers are on sale. Stock up while supplies last. I'm kidding. That clip from Napoleon Dynamite is a riot, though. And don't go throwing away your Huggies just yet. Because the world is getting older, and adult-diaper sales are forecast to rise 50% in the next 5 years, outpacing baby nappies twentyfold. The leading brand for the elderly is actually called Depend, but Huggies sounds so cute. This is a serious issue and not to be wiped over carelessly. In 2050 in the U.S., the population aged 65 and over is projected to be over 80 million, almost double what it is today. So, a lot of Depends.

A recent debate sponsored by Intelligence Squared featured lifespans as its topic. The question: What if we didn’t have to grow old and die? The average American can now expect to live almost 80 years, largely due to improved sanitation and vaccinations before which people left the Earth a lot closer to aged 50. But even though they may be wearing Depends, most people wan…


The word solipsism predates Christ and appears in the works of philosophers, psychiatrists and metaphysicians alike. Derived from Latin, the term is used to express the notion that the self is the only reality. In short, a solipsist believes that the self (ipse) alone (solus) is (ism). Originally used by the Greeks, who believed that nothing outside the mind exists, and even if the external world does exist it cannot be known objectively or communicated to others, the term was also used by Freud who posited that other minds are not known but only inferred to exist. Because others speak and act as you do, and you exist and think, it is not a stretch to believe they do too. Rather than that they just appear to, as in a dream. Because though the characters in your dream seem to move and behave of their own free will, as thinking, feeling beings with motives and desires of their own, they are really only figments of your own mind, and any appearance that they are autonomous is merely an i…


A while ago in Indonesia taxi drivers made the capital city of Jakarta a grid-locked mess and brought business and pretty much everything else to a halt when protesters flooded the streets to denounce ride-hailing apps like Uber, which they say threaten their livelihoods. Demonstrators set fire to cars and harassed those drivers who didn't take part in the strike.

Their actions remind me of that week during my junior year in high school when the faculty went on strike and their positions were temporarily filled by subs - that is, all but my English course, which was taught by Ms. Merritt who refused to take part in the protest, one would think because she needed the money. My classmates liked to call Ms. Merritt a scab, and became so relentless in their jeers that they once brought her to tears. Kids can be cruel. Such a descriptive pejorative conjures the image of a solidified patch of blood that persistently clings to the viable tissue. Scabs. We've all had 'em. These dry…


English is a lovely language, and not only because it was the first I learned to love. It may not be as phonetically pleasing as, say, French or Portuguese (itself the daughter of French and Spanish), nor does it apply a set of rigid and logical grammatical rules as these Romance languages do. But hey, it's not German, which is guttural and has as many exceptions as there are rules, and more of both than English. 

What English lacks in "just the right word" it appropriates from other languages. It even pilfers from the gutters of the Germane. Schadenfreude, which literally means harm-joy, refers to the pleasure a person derives from the misfortune of another. As when your friend gets shat on by my a pigeon and you crack up. This is a pleasure I've never felt, and I'm no goody-two-shoes, which is a phrase all our own. And neither do many native English-speakers (feel schadenfreude), otherwise we'd have our own word for such malice. It seems we are a lovely peop…


A recent (March, 2016) issue of Scientific American magazine showcased a study published in the British Medical Journal. The BMJ research evaluated inequality in American medicine. The researchers looked at the heads of over 1,000 departments of 50 top U.S. medical schools and found that, though for the past 15 years woman have made up nearly half of all U.S. medical students, and though fewer than 15 percent of men wear mustaches, medical school departments are significantly more likely to be run by a mustachioed man than by a woman

In fact the "overall moustache index," a ratio of women to mustaches, was found to be 0.72, meaning for every 10 department heads with facial hair, only 7 heads were women. The researchers concluded that the fairer sex is horribly underrepresented in medicine's highest ranks and urged medical institutions to "hire, retain, and promote more women." Political correctness in its most flagrant form.

But the study ignored one important …


Last week Tyler Perry presented The Passion, an American television special broadcast by Fox from New Orleans and retelling the final days of Christ to music. When interviewed by Time Magazine Perry said he believed that if Jesus were alive today, rather than travel from village to village on foot to get his message across, he'd go online and "make use of all these tools." Would he? I have for a long time maintained that if Christ had a website and charged by the hour he would no longer be Christ. Christ was a humanitarian. Charging a fee for services would make him just like the very Pharisees he rebuked for making the temple a place of business. It was that people came to Christ for help, the suffering, the blind, the sick and the needy, and that he helped them without asking anything in return but that they leave everything and follow him (which few did) that truly made him a Savior of humanity. 

There are hundreds if not thousands of so-called saviors today - TV evang…


Reading has fallen out of favor. I mean the kind that requires more than 140 characters, which is the limit for Tweets. But even Twitter is no stranger to hard times, having lost over $2 billion since launching over a decade ago. Proving that there are loads of us eager to express ourselves, just nobody around to hear what we have to say. The art of listening has fallen into decay. And it's made even President Obama worried. He recently asked the novelist Marilynne Robinson about the cultural impacts of the decline in reading. Obama declares that most of what he's learned in life - the stuff of importance, such as empathy, and ambiguity, the search for truth and the ability to connect with those who are different than oneself - has come from novels. I don't know which books Obama is referring to, but I doubt he's reading much of what's out there today.

Because the current deluge of self-absorbed novels, such as those by the Norwegian Knausgaard, who by the way has g…


The off-Broadway play Hamilton, which sets the life of founding father Alexander Hamilton to music,is all the rage today. But the real story is about William (1797-1850), who was Hamilton's illegitimate son. In the words of more than one female, he was also "super hot." When he was not turning heads with his wavy hair and well-formed features, Junior was pounding nails as a carpenter. When he wasn't practicing carpentry, he was lobbying for the abolition of slavery. In the early 1830s he participated in the first national conventions of African Americans and was an outspoken opponent of racism, often risking life and limb to go against the grain - that is, against the lining of wealthy landowners' pocketbooks, or whatever men used to keep money in back then. I give up.

When asked about racial equality, Hamilton replied that any difference between blacks and whites "is in favor of the people of color." That's leaving no room for doubt about who's …


I once had a friend who suffered panic attacks. Bouts of intense fear and trepidation would seize her unawares and without warning. These episodes were replete with all the usual symptoms: heart palpitations, sweaty palms, trembling, choking, chest pain and shortness of breath. During these attacks she'd always believe she was dying or going crazy, or both. My friend also developed agoraphobia, which is seen in a third of individuals with panic disorder and involves fear of open spaces from which it is difficult to escape, like shopping malls and arenas. To make matters worse, she'd often experience sleep terrors, where she'd awaken in the middle of the night in the grips of intense fear, not knowing where she was, and incapable of being soothed, only to forget about it the following morning. 

Said friend didn't have any organic cause for panic attacks, which can mimic the effects of heart disease, thyroid dysfunction, anemia, asthma and other conditions. So I suggested…


What is it that makes us human? What separates you and me from the rest of the animal kingdom? Is it our opposable thumbs? Our capacity to love (and to hate)? Our brutality and bellicosity? Ask this question of the next person you meet on the street. If he has given a little thought to the matter (and maybe read the same books as me) he will likely say the twin capacities of reason and reflection are what most distinguish us from our beastly cousins.

That is, to think deeply or carefully about something (reflect), especially past events in order to learn from experiences and avoid future mistakes. Which is why we study history. It is also the essence of wisdom. And to reason is to use logic in order to problem solve, whether about what to have for dinner or merely to contemplate the nature of the universe. The latter is abstract reasoning, the territory of philosophers, physicists and the street corner crazy person, whereas food is just fun to think about. 

But when it comes to reason …


Recently I crossed paths with a dear friend. When I asked after his health, he wove a tale of woe. He had suffered repeated ankle sprains, twice in as many years. The man is, in his mid-70s, at an age when the tendons become more lax. His largely sedentary existence has caused a smidgen of weight gain especially around the middle, which puts an extra strain on the ankles. I asked him how he had twisted his ankle. Was it playing Frisbee with his dog, or perhaps hiking with his wife? 

"Funny thing is, I don't remember injuring my ankles at all. I just woke up one morning and could hardly walk."

"Did you say ankles, as in plural?" 

"Yes, first my right, and then my left. I am just now finally getting over the left sprain."

"How do you know it was a sprain?

"The MRI said mild sprain."

"How long did it take you to recover from these sprains?"

"About eight weeks. I could hardly drive my car when the left one was out. The clutch was ju…